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Economic Issues in John Dewey’s Social Philosophy: An Evolutionary and Ethical Account

Les questions économiques dans la philosophie sociale de John Dewey : une perspective évolutionnaire et éthique
Laure Bazzoli et Véronique Dutraive
p. 689-721

Résumés

Cet article s’intéresse à la conception de la vie économique que le pragmatiste John Dewey développe dans le cadre de sa philosophie sociale, et fait ressortir le fait que ses Lectures on Political Ethics (1896, 1898, 1901) et son Syllabus : Social Institutions and the Study of Morals (1924) éclairent particulièrement cette question. Nous défendons que l’analyse de Dewey de la nature et du rôle des processus économiques, notamment à partir de ces deux sources, peut mettre en lumière ses essais moins théoriques et mieux connus qui ont trait à la critique de la vie sociale et économique dans les années 1920 et 1930. Nous montrons que sa conception des questions économiques fait partie intégrante de son projet plus général de reconstruction de la philosophie sociale et qu’elle est au cœur de sa théorie éthique sur le développement de la démocratie.

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1Social philosophy is a “key notion” of John Dewey’s pragmatism (Zask, 2015), even though it remains to be fully developed (Frega, 2015). In his social philosophy, Dewey devoted a significant part of his analysis to economic issues, a fact that has been largely unexplored possibly because Dewey did not publish studies specifically related to these issues. However, he considered them from the perspective of philosophy and in the framework of his ethical theory, which is associated with his social and political philosophy. Furthermore, the study of economic life and economic thought is present from his Early Works through to his Later Works.

  • 1 In the text, dates in between parentheses refer to original publication dates. In the references, t (...)
  • 2 In addition, this interest was stimulated by institutional economists (Veblen and Mitchell), who wo (...)

2Towards the end of his life, when rewriting the introduction to one of his major works, Experience and Nature (1925 and 1949),1 Dewey castigated the classical mode of thinking that is cut off from the real world, considering that a “philosophy which does not take into account the economic enterprise and its human consequences is an escapist intellectual gymnastic” (Dewey, 1949, 359). Interest in economic issues is intrinsic to his philosophy, which he wanted engaged in the world of common experience where economic issues play such an important role.2 And one must agree with the view expressed more than 40 years ago by Williams (1970, 177), who stated that “the economic analysis of Dewey has received too little attention”. This observation was recently restated by Deen (2012, 646), who says that “there has been relatively little written on Dewey’s economic thought”.

  • 3 In the field of economics, Dewey's philosophy has been taken into account mainly by historians of e (...)

3Indeed, philosophers have not explored this subject and economists have concentrated on the methodological and epistemological issues of pragmatism (e.g. Fiorito, 2009, 2011; Khalil, 2004; and the contributions compiled in the Journal of Economic Methodology, 2003); these scholars do not consider Dewey’s conceptions on the economy as economic conceptions.3 Even when this is considered, the idea often defended is that Dewey was only preoccupied with criticizing economic life (Thompson, 2005) at a late stage in his career (particularly during the Great Depression of the 1930s) and only in his non-theoretical or popular studies (Deen, 2012). Furthermore, certain authors (Hands, 2004; Posner, 2004) maintain that Dewey’s criticism of economic life and public affairs is superficial and had little to do with his philosophy.

  • 4 The lectures Dewey taught from the late part of the 19th century to the early part of the 20th cent (...)

4In contrast, our study focuses on the conception of economic life developed by Dewey in the context of his social philosophy. It includes sources that have received too little attention, particularly, Lectures on Political Ethics (1896, 1898, 1901 and 1915-16), and Syllabus: Social Institutions and the Study of Morals (1924), which contribute to the development of Dewey’s social philosophy but have not been published.4 We argue that Dewey develops an original analysis of the nature and role of economic processes, and that this analysis underlies his criticism of the modern liberal economy, which he increasingly defended in the 1920s and 1930s. This criticism is reflected both in his practical commitments and in his writings, especially in his famous trilogy of the 1930s, Individualism, Old and New (1930); Liberalism and Social Action (1935) and Freedom and Culture (1939b), and in the two versions of Ethics (1908, 1932) co-written with J.H. Tufts. Therefore, we assert that his criticism of economic life should be seen as based on more conceptual work including work on economic issues developed in his earlier studies. By reviewing Dewey’s works, we will demonstrate that his analysis of economic processes plays an important role in his major goal: the reconstruction of social philosophy and ethical theory. Dewey conceives the economy as part of an original evolutionary vision of social processes and analyzes economic problems through their intrinsic relationships with ethical issues. For Dewey, a social theory “[which] cannot professionally admit the part played by need, purpose and an unceasing valuing … in the generation and management of human affairs” (1949, 359) is nothing but an “idle luxury” (1920, 190). From the perspective of the development of democracy, Dewey claims that the study of economic issues is essential, though only in a non-deterministic manner. Economic life has a significant but non-autonomous function in human experience: it has to be apprehended in connection with the political and ethical dimensions of experience; therefore, we cannot dispense with questioning economic ends to understand and solve the problems it causes. This is how Dewey sees economic issues within the framework of his philosophy.

5In order to develop these arguments, we have organized the paper in two parts. The first part explores Dewey’s conception of the economy based on his Lectures and his Syllabus, characterized by an evolutionary and, more specifically, by an organic framework of analysis. By highlighting the ontological and methodological dimensions of this conception, we note that, according to Dewey, the economy plays a vital role in human life, which implies the function of values in the social process. In the second part, we demonstrate that this organic conception provides Dewey with a criterion for assessing the social process presented in Syllabus and that it is the basis for his later analysis of the maladjustments of economic life in a regime dominated by the values, institutions and ideas of “old individualism”. This criticism leads Dewey to advocate an experimental type of social control that is part of his vision of a “creative democracy” conducive to a “new individualism”, a “radical democracy” making Dewey’s “organic society” possible.

1. Dewey’s Conception of Economic Life: an Essential Part of his Organic Social Ontology and Methodology

  • 5 After Dewey’s first position at the University of Michigan, he was appointed head of the philosophy (...)
  • 6 Koch edited the 1898-1899 lectures (Koch, 1976), then the 1894-1896 lectures (Koch, 1998). In addit (...)

6During his Chicago years (1894-1904) and later at Columbia,5 Dewey delivered lectures on ethics from three major aspects of his philosophy: the experimental logic of inquiry (Logic of Ethics), the psychological theory of human conduct (Psychological Ethics), and the social theory of transactions between individuals and society (Political Ethics also referred to as Social Ethics) on which we focus here. The notes for these lectures were duplicated by students and used by Dewey as teaching material and as the basis for further work; they were rewritten and edited by D.F. Koch (Koch, 1976, 1998, 2010).6 According to Koch, these lectures are doubly interesting. First, they constitute “an important bridge between the early and the later Works” of Dewey (Koch, 1976, xxi). From his Chicago years onwards, Dewey went beyond the Hegelian idealism of his early period by integrating the influences of Darwin and Peirce. Dewey founded his own version of pragmatism, which he eventually termed “naturalistic humanism” (Dewey, 1925, 29) and is often referred to as “experimental idealism”. Secondly, these “lectures are especially interesting because they attempt a unified presentation of Dewey’s views on moral and social philosophy which is not found in any of his published works” (Koch, 1976, xxi). In the different versions of his Lectures on Political Ethics, Dewey begins with a critical reading of major authors in philosophy and social theory (specifically, Spencer, Green, Austin, and the classical economists), then goes on to develop his positive conception of human life in society where he integrates the study of economic processes.

  • 7 As we shall see, continuity is inherent because the life process is an organic-dynamic process that (...)

7In Lectures, Dewey’s developments are analytical and aim to build a theoretical framework to study social and moral facts (Koch, 1976). Dewey sets forth the primary issues of his social philosophy, which will be developed in his later works and include the dualism between individuals and society. He perceives this dualism as a common characteristic of the otherwise conflicting social theories, “individualism” and “collectivism”, and as a major obstacle to the development of social inquiry and ethics (Koch, 1998). Another issue is the evolutionary alternative that includes an organic theory of social processes, which acknowledges continuity between nature and culture and the specificity of social phenomena.7 The final issue includes the articulation between economics, politics and ethics to comprehend the evolutionary organic relationship between individuals and society, and the problems this implies. This organic model of the social process, which is thoroughly discussed in Lectures, is at the heart of Syllabus where Dewey projected to present his conception of social philosophy. It is within this organic framework that Dewey studies the nature and function of economic life in human experience. The following sections outline the ontological and methodological aspects of this framework.

1.1. The Status of the Economy in Social Ontology: the Vital Process of the Social Organism

  • 8 According to Arena and Lawson (2015), ontological considerations are an unavoidable part of both na (...)

8John Dewey has built his social philosophy on an ontology in which he gives the economy a specific status. If we exclude the metaphysical dimensions attached to this notion, ontology can be defined as the specification of the nature of the entities studied. To put it differently, it is the way reality is apprehended. According to this author, from a general point of view, reality is neither subjective nor objective, but consists of relationships between the entities under consideration and their environment. In the social world, these entities are individuals (or groups) and their physical or social environment (groups, organizations or society as a whole). In line with Darwinian principles, it is thus considered that the profound nature of reality is change insofar as these individual-environment relationships are mutually transformative.8

  • 9 In the article that Dewey devoted to Darwin’s influence on philosophy, he highlights the epistemolo (...)
  • 10 The organic conception of society was developed after reading other authors whom Dewey often quotes (...)

9Dewey’s philosophy is fundamentally characterized by the consequences of the Darwinian epistemological revolution. Throughout his work, Dewey holds a naturalist position, which means that human experience must be studied as part of nature in an evolutionary perspective, as opposed to separation between what is moral-social and what is natural. The evolutionary perspective has major ontological implications for Dewey; it leads him to consider a single life process that includes biological and cultural issues and develops through cumulative change.9 In his Chicago lectures, Dewey develops his naturalistic conception of social life, which he refers to as a “dynamic-organic conception” (Dewey, 1901) and which may be called organic evolutionism. Dewey (1898) discusses the appropriateness of conceiving society as an organism and relies on Spencer’s analyses to go a step further.10 From Dewey’s perspective (Dewey, 1898, 325; 1901, 1939-1941), perceiving society as an organism is not a matter of analogy; it implies adopting the theory of evolution “in its generality” by developing a generic conception of the life process as an evolutionary organic process and using it as the basis to study to what extent living beings and social structures both have the characteristics of an organism. Organisms consist of relationships between organs, processes, structures and functions that are linked together to maintain its proper functioning in relationship with the environment on which it depends and which changes through its activity. Dewey considers that society “is an organism because it is constituted on the basis of a relationship of this kind” (Dewey, 1901, 1941).

  • 11 According to Dewey, the correlative dependence of the individual on society and of society on the i (...)

10We focus on two key points in Dewey’s conception of society as an organism. Dewey underscores the first point: the organic, i.e. the reciprocal relationship between the parts (organs) and the whole (organism). According to Dewey, the purpose of this conception is to be able to redefine the relationship that links the individual to society, by distancing himself both from the “static organicism” that can be observed in the social theories he describes as “collectivist” and from “individualistic organicism” represented by Spencer among others. Individuals and society are not fixed entities that are ontologically merged or separate; they form a “continuum” characterized by “continual interaction, the individual serving as the general agent or instrumentality of social ends and in turn being the initial point, the point of reference from which proceeds the modification and reconstruction [of the social process]” (ibid.). Therefore, the individual has a dual status in society. As a “member”, individuals pursue social finalities; however, as “organs”, individuals have claims concerning their environment, develop actions to control it and transform their social finalities. Consequently, if individuals are conditioned, according to Dewey, it is not “by the social whole” but “in the social whole” (Dewey, 1901, 1888).11

11The second key point of this conception, which has gone largely unnoticed, is that the fundamental process that links the parts and the whole is the fulfillment of the organism’s needs by the environment. According to Dewey, the economy is an extension of biological processes because it is a process that allows “the sustaining and maintaining” of a social organism’s life and the existence of human beings in their environment. In addition, “the biological relationship is the economic relationship in its essence” (Dewey, 1898, 387) and the economy is “the primary social process … [that] presents in its simplest form this relation between organism and environment, the life process” (Dewey, 1901, 1957, emphasis added). The vital process is at the core of Dewey’s ontological vision; therefore, the economy plays a capital role in the social organism. By rejecting analogical thought, Dewey endeavors to analyze the specificities at work in the continuation of biological processes “upon the distinctly human plane” (Dewey, 1924, 248).

12From a generic point of view, the relationship between an organism and its environment does not refer to two entities that react with each other, but rather to “two things which converge in the life process” (Dewey, 1901, 1949). They must be considered, in Dewey’s words, as “a sequence of changes” conferring “a qualitative identity” to life (ibid., 1946). Every organism evolves in order to respond to tensions within its environment; organs multiply and structures and functions are modified and become more complex. An organism’s unity is maintained by “a rise in the amount of indirectness and dependence” of the functions that are performed by its different organs in order to fulfill the needs of the organism (Dewey, 1898, 402). In the human phase of life, the effect of this evolutionary process is an increase in the complexity of needs and of the activities that fulfill such needs. In the course of history, human needs have become more diversified and their expression, i.e. wants, has grown considerably more complex through successive phenomena of derivation from primary needs. Needs are fulfilled by the possession and control of the means that are necessary (particularly “natural goods” that play an important role in human activities, such as land or labor). The development of tools and technologies become secondary “necessities” to control the environment. Therefore, needs and economic activities increasingly link individuals to each other so that a demand for a good is often the derived secondary expression of a demand for social recognition (Dewey, 1924, 250-251).

13According to Dewey, the economic process must therefore be perceived as “one phase of the entire evolutionary process” (Dewey, 1901, 1979). It is characterized by “the evolution of wants into effective demands on one side, and the evolution of nature into serviceable commodities on the other side” (Dewey, 1898, 389) to serve “the functioning of the life process” (ibid. 254). This process does not refer to a simple relationship between humans and nature. Dewey presents economic evolution as a co-evolution of supply and demand that increasingly mediates and socializes the economy. In this evolution, the physical, institutional and moral conditions of the relationship between humans and their environment are transformed in a lasting manner such that the conditions in which the economic process continues are in turn modified. Dewey explains that this evolution must not be regarded as circular but as spiral, and that the “cultural” modifications of the environment, or those that are produced by human activities, transform “the modes in which life-process manifests itself [in social life]” (Dewey, 1924, 250).

  • 12 A. Marshall also developed an organic conception of society in which the economy plays a fundamenta (...)

14Therefore, in Dewey’s perspective, if one wants to study evolutionary processes, where interaction with the natural and social environment is fundamental, economic phenomena cannot be inferred from individuals and their needs. According to Dewey, it is impossible to understand the tremendous development of wealth in the modern economy if satisfaction (“subject side”) is perceived as the starting point without considering the objective role (“object side”) of the development of science and technology or “the various arts in which knowledge of the environment is applied to the control of the environment” (Dewey, 1898, 390-91). This technical and scientific development, which Dewey perceives as one of the primary foundations of the cultural modifications of the environment, plays a critical role in the economy and is a typical characteristic of the increasing complexity of every field. The development of any organism (according to the general meaning of the term) to ensure its survival implies the multiplication of its different organs and structures along with the multiplication of the spatiotemporal factors ensuring their coordination. For a social organism, this process requires an increasingly functional and spatial division of work, which Dewey sees as the “primary fact” of the economy, a “transformation of activity … [into] differentiation of occupations” (Dewey, 1924, 251) made possible by the development of technologies, transportation and communication. Dewey claims that the specialization of activities, the division and multiplication of the production of goods, and the extension in time and space of the economic process that is made possible by capital, make the process of distinguishing between the actual fulfillment of needs (consumption) and the activities aimed at fulfilling them (production) “more and more dependent upon intermediate social processes” (Dewey, 1898, 402). Although these characteristics have previously been noted by authors such as Marshall12 or Spencer, they substantiate for Dewey the superiority of organic evolutionism over individualistic philosophy.

  • 13 According to Spencer, over the course of history, evolution moved from a “military” stage of organi (...)
  • 14 Dewey stresses that each “concrete group” performs several functions although one of these function (...)

15Spencer’s evolutionism regards social evolution as a process of individual liberation resulting in a social system that is essentially coordinated by competition.13 Dewey considers that the division of work unquestionably implies more independence from the whole because “only through the division of labor, or differentiation of callings, does the individual become individualized” (Dewey, 1901, 1894). However, the movement of individuation, which is at work in social evolution, (i.e. the movement of diversification and specialization that implies competition), cannot be understood if it is not related to the process of association, which implies cooperation. Dewey maintains that an association is as objective as an individual by organizing interactions and reciprocal dependency between individuals. Associations are groups that have a certain type of permanency, mode of action, structure, specific interests and finalities. Associations are extremely diverse in their characteristics, size, number, location, etc. Dewey (1924, 1919) proposes a typology that is based on the interests and needs that associations are meant to fulfill. Industrial groups supply material goods providing “support and sustenance”; military groups provide protection and security; the family ensures reproduction; clubs, sports and cultural associations provide entertainment and leisure activities; and schools, academies, and scientific organizations provide knowledge, language and sociability (ibid., 236).14 Individuals are differentiated by their participation in the various groups to which they belong and an association is “a limiting principle in the direction of individuality” (Dewey, 1898, 332). An association defines the boundaries of opportunities and individual choices. Therefore, each individual is an “associated individual”, a member of several associations that endow him/her with a specific personality and allow him/her to be a “subjective individual” who can oppose his/her social environment and engage in actions to change certain aspects of the environment (Dewey, 1901, 1939). This leads Dewey to state that individuality is the result of a social process and that each individual is “social” while also being specific: “In its genesis it is social and … in the part which it plays … it is social too. … Then we would call it social even if in its content you could not find a single element which was like an element found in any other personality” (Dewey, 1898, 238).

  • 15 “There is a direct connection between these social groupings and the way in which the individual is (...)
  • 16 If Dewey considers that the economic function (maintenance of the life-process) offers a central co (...)

16Dewey claims that the deep nature of social reality is shaped and directed by associations of individuals, not by individuals on one side and society on the other. “Society” does not exist by itself;15 it relies on associations and their multiple evolving links. Society is an organism because it is an “associated life” whose structures extend social interdependency, though not only through the exchange or division of work.16 In addition, Dewey considers that competition between individuals and associations is an integral part of the conception of society as an organic process; it is a general property of every organism that each organ attempts to become representative of the whole (Dewey, 1898, 296 and 332-333). According to Dewey, competition stimulates novelty in individual and collective practices as well as conflicts between individuals and groups (Dewey, 1901, 1882). From this perspective, the primary social value of competition is to promote the development of the organism and a form of consciousness that is based on deliberation to find solutions for the “maladjustments” that are revealed or caused by innovation and conflicts (Dewey, 1898, 333). However, this consciousness cannot be reduced to an individual’s distinctive consciousness and implies social consciousness, which is not a form of consciousness that is possessed by society but is “dependent on this continuous and complex interaction going on between the various individual activities” (ibid., 348). Therefore, from Dewey’s perspective, social consciousness plays a determining role as a force of development and transformation.

17According to Dewey, analyzing the process of social evolution based on the organic link between individuals and society and in the continuum between nature and culture, implies viewing society as an organism and the economy as a life process. Dewey proposes to reinterpret “the economics process as equivalent to the process by which the relation between organism and environment, or in terms of consciousness, between subject and object, have developed” (this statement constitutes the ontological side of his evolutionism) and “having worked that out, to consider the bearing of that upon the relations of the economic process to the political and to the ethical” process (1898, 254). This perspective of economic facts, seen as a phase within the global social process that is distinct from political and ethical phases, embodies the methodological implication of Dewey’s organic evolutionism.

1.2. A Pluralistic Method for Analyzing Social Facts: the Articulation of Economics, Politics and Ethics

18According to Dewey, the organic circuit of the vital process that links the individual to society has been split between different academic fields, i.e., economics, politics and ethics. The reconstruction proposed by Dewey seeks to modify this separation into a distinction because he disagrees with the idea that these three fields correspond to separated facts of reality and considers they are distinct phases of a unified social experience. From this perspective, the economy cannot be dissociated from the institutional and moral characteristics of social life and it becomes necessary to analyze and articulate these three fundamental aspects of the social process (Dewey, 1896, 1898, 1924). This statement constitutes the positive side of Dewey’s social philosophy.

19By inferring that social life is in continuity with nature, organic evolutionism implies that “social life or experience like any form of life involves Processes, Structures … and Functions” (Dewey, 1924, 247). In the natural world, processes are the dynamic element, “the manifestation of energy in a change”; structures organize the use of this energy within frameworks that are relatively stable and lasting. Functions are the finalities of the organism (its survival, its reproduction) and refer to “consequences that give meaning or significance to processes and structures” (ibid.). In the social world, these three dimensions refer to economics, politics and ethics. “In social life processes may be identified with the economic-industrial activities that affect the distribution of power, and of abilities, capacities, enjoyments; structures appear in the form of institutional organizations expressed in legal and political forms”; functions “are the strictly socio-moral phase, goods, values, interests” (ibid., 248). According to Dewey, functions are phases “of one and the same social experience with the various values realized in it” (Dewey, 1898, 382). Economic issues relate to the means and activities through which individuals “reciprocally stimulate and control each other”. These activities generate “a growing evolution” of the economic values that fulfill needs. Ethical issues relate to the ends or ideals that these activities and relationships imply. Dewey defines them as conscious human values that are maintained and “subserved” (ibid.). Lastly, political issues relate to the structures through which these relationships and values become real, thereby organizing the relationship between ends and means.

  • 17 Dewey articulates economics, politics and ethics in a single movement. However, the perspective fro (...)

20These phases of the social process fundamentally structure the relationship between individuals and the social whole, which, as we noted, is twofold (Dewey, 1896). On one side of the relationship, i.e. that of the individual as a member of society, which refers to the individual’s contribution to society, is supply (for the economic phase), obligations (for the political phase) and responsibility (for the ethical phase). On the other side of the relationship, i.e. that of the individual as an organ of society, which corresponds to the positive contribution of society to the individual’s existence, is demand (for the economic phase), rights (for the political phase) and freedom (for the ethical phase). Dewey admits that separating the economic, political and ethical aspects is legitimate. However, this separation must not constitute an isolation that would generate an incoherent vision of the social process according to which “our social life, that is, our activities, relationships, and interactions with others, seems to be divided against itself” and the human being is split; on the contrary, the human being is the unity of these three dimensions (Koch, 1998, 104). Dewey proposes to establish the basis of a reconstruction of the links that unify economic processes, institutional structures and ethical ends within the social process. According to him, it is the responsibility of social philosophy to consider the unity of social sciences, which subsequently implies the reconstruction of each field. First, let us analyze how Dewey articulates economic processes and political structures before considering how they are related to ethical ends.17

  • 18 Like certain institutional economists, Dewey defines an institution as a “social habit” and conside (...)

21Economic processes (“the distribution and arrangement of force”) are integrated into the social structure because they are regulated by political and legal systems (Dewey, 1896, 158). Political institutions constitute the system that defines the rights and duties by which “members of the social organism reciprocally stimulate and control each other’s actions” (ibid., 161). Therefore, as stated by Dewey, “institutions give reality to the capacity called will” (Dewey, 1898, 232). This statement raises the issue of the relationship between the State, which embodies and implements political institutions, and the economic processes it guides and regulates. Dewey considers that the political and economic theories of his time share the same misunderstanding, which is to see the State as an entity distinct from society within the framework of a dualistic conception of the relationship between the State and individuals. The State is perceived as “above” or “beside” society. The State fully embodies society and alternatively, is denounced as producing artificial laws that thwart the economic laws embodying the natural tendencies of individual freedom. However, Dewey claims that economic laws are “made by men’s hands” and do not spontaneously appear due to psychological phenomena or from natural needs since “the formation of wants and their external expression is always conditioned upon legal-political arrangements subject to collective regulation because of collective origin” (Dewey, 1924, 261). These institutional regulation processes are not the privilege of the State; they are an intrinsic part of every “association” (Dewey, 1898, 151). Therefore, the system of government is “an institution among other institutions” (Dewey, 1896, 153) and must be considered as a set of “organs of regulation rather than the essence of regulation itself” (Dewey, 1924, 269-270).18

22Economic processes and groups do constitute a component of sovereignty based on the right of property, which is not a natural right but a political right, and have played a role in the definition of political structures throughout human history. While human evolution appears to give increasingly more importance to the economy than to policy, this must not be interpreted as economic processes being “primary” and political processes “secondary”, as “socialists” will have it according to Dewey. These processes cannot be separated and the economy is not the cause of policy (Dewey, 1901, 1957); their relationship is organic and economic processes are channeled and oriented by political systems and institutional structures that are shaped in return by economic groups. If government is only an organ of sovereignty and laws are the embodiment of the customs of dominant groups, government and law contain and convey the values or finalities of the time. Therefore, “the political system may be regarded as the social structure considered as an instrument for maintaining the ends that are regarded as worthwhile” (Dewey, 1896, 158). The relationship between economic processes and the ethical ends that are prioritized by existing institutions must be examined within the global social process.

23The relationships between economics and ethics are central to Dewey’s social philosophy; the co-evolution of the economy and morals, of means and ends, is at the core of his organic evolutionism. By defending the continuity of human experience in nature, Dewey rejects the dichotomy between instrumental or material dimensions (the “outer” world) and intrinsic or ideal dimensions (the “inner” world). He replaces it with the continuum of means and ends, i.e. “the significance of ways-and-means in connection with consequences, and of consequences as varying with ways-and-means available” (Dewey, 1924, 267). According to Dewey, the economic and ethical theories of his time have precisely “the same fundamental fallacy, separation of means and ends, although making the separation from opposite poles”. Economic theory mistakes the means for the ends by isolating the economy and reducing it to an instrumental end, while ethical theory separates the ends from the means by isolating morality and reducing it to an intrinsic end (Dewey, 1924, 266-268). Dewey’s perspective is that ethical ends are neither given nor transcendental; they are evolutionary social facts that are fundamentally affected by economic processes, and in return, “the various [human] activities are translated over [by ethics] into conscious values” (Dewey, 1896, 148) that can be evaluated and subsequently transformed. Dewey claims that there are no a priori timeless intrinsic ends because “ideals and motives take concrete shape under the influence of social forces in their economic phases” (Dewey, 1924, 266). He explains, “the essential meaning of the industrial process is that it is one by which the agent is brought to consciousness of his own activity in the form of wants, and that instead of these wants having at the outset a fixed scale of value, this economic process is the process by which he learns to value his wants” (Dewey, 1898, 253). Conversely, the essential purpose of the ethical phase is to be the “process by which reconstruction of values occurs” (Dewey, 1896, 149) or the process by which the values that are or will be realized are assessed; as Koch (1998, 115) explains, it is “the activity of using intelligence … in order to deal with the morally problematic”, which emerges from human activities, from conflicts between the needs and their fulfillment and between individuals and society.

24Therefore, according to Dewey, instrumental processes cannot be regarded as ends in themselves but must be related to their moral consequences, i.e. their contribution to the quality of human experience. Ideal finalities cannot be constructed or reconstructed without assessing the economic processes and political structures that condition and influence them and constantly raise new moral issues. Therefore, according to Dewey, one must grasp the evolutionary relationships between economic values (“wealth”) and human values (“welfare”). This organic relationship between economics and ethics leads Dewey to consider that economic goods (such as wealth and economic security) are not “inferior” goods distinct from “spiritual” goods (like knowledge or art); both are moral goods because they are natural goods, they are the fruit of human experience and culture. Furthermore, superior goods are “the lower transmuted” goods (Dewey, 1898, 258), i.e. the extension of men’s struggle for life through unselfish activities that form the highest values of civilization. Dewey thus perceives the relationship between economics and ethics as a relationship between material and moral culture (the means and ends) in the evolution of social life.

25Dewey’s social philosophy offers a method for social inquiry based on the articulation of economic processes, political structures and ethical functions or ends. The fundamental merit that Dewey attributes to this framework is that it goes beyond a set of “typical fallacies” that developed with the separation of academic fields (Dewey, 1924, 248): “the materialistic fallacy”, which transforms the economy into the ultimate social force and is based on a perspective of human nature characterized by the search for self-interest; “the morphological, anatomical or institutional fallacy”, which considers legal and political structures as a primary force and the search for power as a characteristic of human nature; and “the idealistic or spiritualistic fallacy”, which perceives moral values or ideals as an independent and final force that is rooted in an altruistic view of human nature searching for what is good. Unlike the “monism” of conceptions that retain any of these dimensions as the ultimate cause of social phenomena, organic evolutionism is a “pluralistic” conception according to which none of the dimensions of a social organism is fundamentally predominant. However, they must be distinguished in order to correlate them, both from an analytical and historical perspective (Koch, 1998; Samuels, 1989).

26In our opinion, the theory of social life to which Dewey devoted his Lectures is the tool that allowed him to analyze the maladjustments of the social process he observed in the historical circumstances that developed in his lifetime. This issue becomes the focus of his enquiry from the 1920s onwards.

2. Dewey’s Criticism of Economic Life: an Organic and Ethical Evaluation of Economic Problems

  • 19 Dewey and Tufts (1932) abundantly use studies on capitalism conducted by Veblen, Commons, Clark and (...)

27After elaborating his organic conception of society, Dewey focused on what he calls its maladjustments and considered that the economic problem became central. Dewey sometimes uses the term capitalism to refer to “the single word which includes in large measure the outstanding features of the present methods of production and economic organization” (Dewey and Tufts, 1932, 375). However, he very often prefers to use the terms “individualistic regime of the economy” and “Great Society” from Graham Wallas to apprehend the growing complexity and failures of modern social life. In this respect, although Dewey’s ideas largely rely on contributions from economists who criticize the academic tradition, especially institutional economists (Deen, 2012; Tilman, 1998),19 he does not develop an economic analysis of economic problems as such. His goal is to place them in the articulation between economics, politics and ethics, and from the philosophical perspective of the relationships and mismatches between human and economic values. Dewey exposes these issues in three set of sources in particular.

28The first source is Ethics, where Dewey and Tuft develop an historical analysis of the “problems which characterize the present” state of democracy in their moral, political and economic dimensions, and specifically identify problems caused by the “new economic order”. Dewey maintained that the two versions of Ethics (1908 and 1932) reflect the evolution of the historical context from industrialization in the late 19th century to the worldwide depression of the 1930s, which reinforced the acuteness of the economic problem.

  • 20 We believe that Syllabus may have been an important piece of Dewey’s thought if it had been brought (...)

29The second source is Syllabus that combines the theoretical approach of Lectures and the historical approach of Ethics in order to reconstruct social philosophy.20 A specific aspect of Dewey’s thinking is put forward in this text: social philosophy must study the economic maladjustments that occur in modern life because it “is concerned with the valuation of social phenomena” (Dewey, 1924, 231). Syllabus argues that judgment criteria must be derived, as in Lectures, from a social study of the mutual interaction between the material processes of human existence (economics), the social arrangements that depend on human association and regulate it (politics), and the ideals, values and moral judgments (ethics) that exist “as part of social phenomena” (ibid., 231). This kind of approach makes it possible to identify the specific problems that arise at a given moment in time in a specific historical context and thus conceive solutions.

30This questioning structures Dewey’s academic and public activities in the 1920s and 1930s, an extremely active period for Dewey “in writing, lecturing and propagandizing” (Bordeau, 1971, 67). Along with his major general philosophical works (1925, 1938, 1939a), Dewey develops his social and political philosophy in a series of essays that are among his most famous writings (Dewey, 1927, 1930, 1935, 1939b, c, d). This third set of sources is less analytical than Lectures but we maintain that Dewey mobilized his early evolutionary model of analysis presented in Freedom and Culture as a “relativistic and pluralist position” (Dewey, 1939b, 118-119) for studying the historical movement of Western civilization and democracy. He goes further in his opposition to the dualistic social philosophies the most influential representatives of which are developing in the field of economics (liberalism and Marxism), and he develops his analysis of the problems of democracy in the capitalist era. It is from this perspective that he praises the necessity for social control of the economy and makes more frequent interventions in the public area, which is regarded as “a lived extension of his … theorizing” (Bordeau, 1971, 67).

31To present Dewey’s criticism of economic life, we first expose how he analyzes the maladjustments of economic processes on the basis of an organic evaluation criterion. We then focus on his major thesis: the role of “moral culture” (i.e. what he calls “old individualism”) in the failures of “material culture” functioning and the necessity for rebuilding the relationship between the economy and ethics through pragmatic social control of material life.

2.1. Assessing the Failures of the Economic Process in the Individualistic Regime of Social Life: the Organic Evaluation Criterion

32As early as in Lectures, Dewey states that the ultimate objective of social philosophy is normative, it has “to find the means to resolve the genuinely new moral problems created by new developments within society” (Koch, 1976, xxiii). This objective is developed in Syllabus where Dewey adds normative ethics to the positive analysis of Lectures. For Dewey, social philosophy must not only be a tool to “think clearly”, it must also be a tool for assessing values and institutions and changing them (Ross, 1982). Dewey seeks to replace the conceptions that defend fixed and immanent ends separated from the means, by studying the continuum between means and ends, particularly between economic processes and their institutional organization in relation to the finalities that guide them. The economic problem occupies a major place in this perspective.

  • 21 In addition, Dewey uses the term “creative consumption”. In his unfinished Syllabus, Dewey does not (...)

33What is at stake in Dewey’s normative side of social philosophy is the definition of an evaluation criterion (Dewey, 1919, 1924, 1929) derived from “positive social phenomena” rather than from the ultimate nature of things or individual consciousness. In his Syllabus, Dewey argues that the organic conception of social life offers “a criterion for evaluating any particular economic state or operation” (Dewey, 1924, 251). Specifically, he considers that the economic process, like biological processes, has an internal limit linked to the integration of consumption and production, which he refers to as “productive consumption or consummatory production” (ibid.).21 The challenge is to understand whether the economic process allows finding a balance between “two sides of social need, meeting social demand on one side and doing it through a series of activities which interest the individual” (Dewey, 1901, 1864), and whether the economic process allows the generation of “the maximum of productive energy” while securing “a full return of good, satisfaction or value produced” (Dewey, 1924, 253) for each productive unit. The growing complexity that is inherent to the economic process gives greater importance to this issue “in scope and acuteness” and results in the necessity to maintain the integration between production and consumption as a social concern (ibid., 251). Therefore, Dewey sees in the economy a form of articulation between the individual and society that essentially relates to what economists call supply and demand.

  • 22 Dewey’s refusal of the “end-in-itself” does not mean he excludes any intrinsic end. This end is fou (...)

34Dewey’s organic criterion allows him to articulate the instrumental and intrinsic dimensions of experience, and the economic and ethical dimensions of values and ends. With this criterion, Dewey argues that “the sphere of economic activity … serves human needs, personal and institutional, and is to be judged by how well or ill it serves them” (Dewey, 1949, 358). His criterion emphasizes two dimensions of the finality of the economy: the values-in-use in consumption (“usefulness”) and the opportunities for creative activity offered by the realization of these values-in-use. When social phenomena are assessed on the basis of the life-process, the fulfillment of needs and the activities necessary to meet them can be apprehended in relation to the enrichment of the existential content of human life. The intrinsic finality of the social process is, in Dewey’s terms, the self-realization of individuals or the broadening of the potentialities of human nature through social conditions that allow individuals to be organs and members of society.22 The role of economic processes can therefore be placed on the side of means but as means to reach that end and “the means [production of goods, economic security] have to be implemented by a social-economic system that establishes and uses the means for the production of free human beings associating with one another on terms of equality. Then, and then only will these means be an integral part of the end” (Dewey, 1939c, 320).

35Dewey emphasizes that if there is a “theoretical possibility that … welfare and wealth coincide”, this possibility “is negated in the existing situation by the fact that the economic system is one of internal oppositions and conflicts, so that the human equivalent is one of mixed utilities and disutilities” (Dewey, 1924, 263). From Dewey’s perspective, the existing economic regime misinterprets means as ends, as does the economic theory of his time. What are the key points in his analysis of economic problems? According to Dewey, historical evolution has produced a “Great Society” in which the conditions of collective life are marked by a significant deployment of economic action the influence of which “is both a cause and a symbol of the tendency to combination in all phases of life” (Dewey, 1930, 58). Economic activity increasingly develops within the framework of corporate bodies that “tend to become simply economic purposes incorporate, abstracted from all other human qualities” and guided by the “unlimited control of the profit motive” (Dewey and Tufts, 1908, 443; 1932, 383). These collective and impersonal “machines” are supported by securing the individual rights of property and contracts, without bearing any moral responsibility, i.e. responsibility for the consequences of their activity. Therefore, there has been an unprecedented extension of abstract collective forces “at the expense of the intimacy and directness of communal group interests and activities”, giving “a distorted meaning to individualism” through its “intimated association with business activity for private profit” (Dewey, 1939b, 176-179). According to Dewey, an economic regime in which an instrumental end (quantitative and financial) is dominant has negative consequences and creates pathologies in social life.

36From an economic perspective, Dewey (1924) considers the analyses conducted by economists who emphasize the increasing failure in quantitative adjustment between production and consumption (insufficient effective demand linked to the inequality of wealth distribution and recurring overproduction that results in economic instability and insecurity). However, Dewey is interested in the organic consequences of subordinating “values-in-use or consumption”, which are a matter of qualitative “standards” and “valuations”, to “exchange values”, which are a matter of quantitative “standards” and “valuations” (Dewey, 1924, 262). In other words, he shows the consequences of the organization of the economic process “on a non-social basis” (Dewey, 1939c, 312).

37On the side of demand, Dewey emphasizes that if “wants” have multiplied and become diversified, they are conditioned by “the market and business” (Dewey, 1924, 264) and are beyond personal control. This situation occurs because of “an excess stimulation of wants connected with money and material success” (ibid., 262) and the development of “conspicuous consumption” the driving force of which is, as demonstrated by Veblen, social rivalry rather than meeting real needs. On the side of supply, from Dewey’s perspective, subjecting production “for use” to production “for profit” means subjecting the “creative” to the “acquisitive”. This corrupts the function of competition and transforms its initial role as an “experimental movement” to create new values and foster variety into a “simply … quantitative one … largely speculative in character” (Dewey, 1901, 1994-1998), which frequently results in the establishment of monopolies. Dewey emphasizes the alienation of work (Williams, 1970) due to rationalization, which reduces the relationship “between capacity and occupation” (Dewey, 1924, 262). Likewise, he considers that the enormous technological potential developed by science has been appropriated for private uses and ended in the “the ruthless exploitation of natural resources without reference to conservation for future users” (ibid.). As far as the integration of production and consumption is concerned, these mismatches between the two sides of the social equation of the economic process indicate the discrepancy between the interests of capitalists and workers, producers and consumers, and financiers and technicians. These mismatches result in a divergence between the financial and human cost of economic activity. The failure of this economic regime to “secure [for] its members steady and useful employment”, i.e., “to utilize the energy, physical, intellectual and moral of the members who are desirous … [to produce] some kind of needed and useful commodity” is the most serious weakness and the most severe criticism “against anything that calls itself a civilization” (Dewey, 1939c, 330).

  • 23 For Dewey, the paradox of this civilization, dominated by financial criteria in the name of individ (...)
  • 24 Frega (2015) has recently edited Dewey’s Lectures in China (1919), which are an extension of Lectur (...)

38Although this regime has brought economic wealth, “it had not done so well with the human side of the problem” (ibid., 311). According to Dewey, these human consequences are social consequences that jeopardize the organic relationship between individuals and society, a consequence that he analyzes more specifically in the essays he wrote in the 1930s. Individuals are “lost”, overwhelmed by abstract forces that led to the formation of the “Great Society”. They have lost control over society and are excluded from it as soon as they lose their jobs (Dewey, 1927, 1930, 1935). More specifically, Dewey stresses that the concentration of economic forces does not allow initiatives and choices to be expressed and that generally, the actions of individuals are responses to “forces external to themselves … to such an extent that individuality is suppressed” (Dewey, 1930, 66). The influence of the economic order on aspirations has caused contemporary existence to become “anthropologically speaking … a money culture. Its cult and rites dominate” (ibid., 45) and affect all other fields of existence and culture; it generates alienation and anomy (Deen, 2012).23 Therefore, according to Dewey, the new forces of integration, which are mostly impersonal and based on markets, produce new and deep tensions between individuals and society, or produce tensions between the different spheres of social life, making the social organism pathological. As Frega (2015) emphasizes,24 the criterion of Dewey’s social philosophy is the fulfillment of basic human needs and more precisely, the integrated satisfaction of the various basic needs of different groups of social organization. Therefore, conflict between the principles of social organization is at the heart of this criterion and Dewey focuses on the pathological tendency of economic organizations to dominate social life entirely. This unbalanced development of life forms precludes the full development of freedom and associated life.

39Dewey’s diagnosis is that there is a very important disequilibrium in modern social life because economic processes are not “oriented toward their proper goal, an organic relation of production and consumption, but toward private benefit” (Deen, 2012, 660). Therefore, these processes result in the disjunction of economic and human values. Dewey considers that the economic and ethical theories of his time are not able to grasp the situation because they reduce the economy to an instrumental value. The economic theory attempted to make economic and human values equivalent by reducing economic values to the immediate satisfaction of individuals and making the exchange value the appropriate standard for use-values. The ethical theory considered human values in transcendental terms deprived of any link with economic values. Furthermore, morality is independent of social conditions; it would suffice to subject economic values to human values. In both cases, economic evaluation and moral deliberation are separated, and economic evaluation is reduced to a narrow market calculation. Indeed, in Dewey’s opinion, “the obnoxious materialism and brutality of our economic life is due to the fact that economic ends have been regarded as merely instrumental” (Dewey, 1920, 178). Conversely, a major implication of organic evolutionism is to consider economic ends as intrinsic, i.e. moral, because “insofar as society is organic, the ethical element, the factor of social justice, must be found in the workings of the economic process itself” (Dewey, 1898, 405). Therefore, it is possible to reconstruct ends and means concurrently in order to ensure that “the ultimate place of economic organization in human life is to assure the secure basis for an ordered expression of individual capacity and for the satisfaction of the needs of man in non-economic directions” (Dewey, 1935, 63).

40According to Dewey, the “acute maladjustment” produced by an economic regime based on a non-organic foundation implies finding out how to transform this organization and alter its negative consequences. In his theory of the social process, the focus is on the ethical phase so as to understand the foundations of such an organization and find possible solutions for change. This is when the issue of democracy comes into focus.

2.2. Social Control of the Economy and “Creative Democracy”: Transforming Moral Culture

41The issue of democracy is one of Dewey’s most famous contributions to philosophy. His preoccupation with democracy, which runs from his Early Works to his Later Works, is at the core of his organic model to analyze social life. In Dewey’s very idealistic early works, he considers that “democracy approaches most nearly the ideal of all social organization; that in which the individual and society are organic to each other” (Dewey, 1888, 237). Later on, his thinking is characterized by experimentalism, in Lectures to begin with, and maintains this idealism but, as noted by Koch, Dewey uses “the organic model, reinterpreted along evolutionary-biological lines, as a device or instrument for enabling us to come to grips with actual social problems” (Koch, 1976, xlv). Therefore, the maladjustments linked to the individualistic regime of economic life imply that institutions and “social arrangements” must be “objects of moral questioning” (Dewey and Tufts, 1932, 314). For Dewey, while ideals and moral beliefs are a product of the social environment, they also affect the direction of social process significantly so that new ideals can transform social life. It is from this perspective, which stresses the importance of moral culture in social processes, that one must consider Dewey’s criticism of “old individualism” and his defense of the ethics of democracy as an ideal that requires social control over economic life.

  • 25 In this study, we do not analyze the various aspects Dewey identifies within the individualistic so (...)

42According to Dewey, the movement of Western civilization towards democratization, which is recent on the scale of human history, is basically a movement towards individuation. However, we must consider that “[t]he history of setting free individual power in desire, thought and initiative is, upon the whole, the history of the formation of more complex and extensive social organizations” (Dewey, 1908, 384). In his understanding of the maladjustments at work in this movement, Dewey argues that they are partly due to principles based on “old individualism” perceived as a set of ideas and values that shape modern society. Throughout his life, Dewey studied the history of individualism, which he also refers to as liberalism, as an intellectual movement formulated in the 18th century but also as a political, moral and economic movement. This movement accompanied the break with the powers and organization of feudal, customary society. Although differences exist within this intellectual movement, Dewey believes it is unified by a fundamental point.25 Old individualism analyzed society “as a mass of units” (Dewey, 1888, 231) meant to defend a social organization based on “some inalienable sacred authority resident in … individuals” by endowing “singular persons in isolation from any associations … with native or natural rights” regarded as non-political rights inherent to individuals (Dewey, 1927, 289). Thus, associations were excluded or reduced to individual rights, and exclusively regarded as guaranteeing private ends. For Dewey, this type of individualism has “done its work” by justifying and subsequently facilitating the historical process by which political autocracy was questioned and productive forces were liberated. Individualism shaped that process by developing the institution of private property and competition as regulating principles of the new economic order as well as representative political government as the foundation of democracy. What Dewey emphasizes is that the individualistic movement that founded modern moral culture constitutes an obstacle to real democracy.

  • 26 “That with a background of millennia of non-democratic societies behind them, the earlier advocates (...)
  • 27 According to Dewey, the “forms of associated action characteristic of the present economic order … (...)
  • 28 Therefore, emancipation from old customs and institutions as achieved by democratic forces has neve (...)
  • 29 For Dewey, this perversion materializes in utilitarianism, which reduces moral deliberation to the (...)
  • 30 Dewey (1931b) notes that the material achievements of our civilization are not so much due to indiv (...)

43This movement is an intellectual obstacle because its ontological oversimplifications, including the individual/society dualism, and its methodological oversimplifications, and in particular the separation between academic fields, make it impossible to understand the organic nature of the social process and democracy.26 Furthermore, because of the gap between intellectual representations and social facts, individualism is a practical obstacle to the regulation of new economic forces and the development of democracy. Individualism reduces democratic government to the protection of individuals and their property, which results in transferring power towards economic interests.27 Individualism sanctifies the omnicompetent individual when he/she is overwhelmed by economic forces that are “so massive and extensive” (Dewey, 1927, 302).28 In Dewey’s opinion, “there is a perversion of the whole ideal of individualism to conform to the practices of a pecuniary culture” (Dewey, 1930, 56).29 This perversion leads to using the unprecedented transformations of material culture—including the development of productive, scientific and technical forcesas a means of extending private interests and property rights rather than promoting social well-being.30 Old individualism is a moral justification of the market system, which became ossified in the dogma of economic liberalism (Dewey, 1949), and cannot “under present conditions … be made to serve a democratic conception of justice. … It leaves the many out from all active participation in progress or morality” (Dewey and Tufts, 1908, 478) by maintaining the economic struggle for life rather than transforming human experience into a struggle for moral existence.

  • 31 Although Dewey constantly conducts a parallel study of the individualistic and collectivist movemen (...)

44According to Dewey, democratic society is not only threatened from the outside by totalitarian States, the problem lies above all within its moral culture. The problem lies in the existence of problematic conditions “within our own personal attitudes and within our own institutions” (Dewey, 1939b, 98, emphasis added). Specifically, these institutions do not allow economic life to be given its appropriate place in social life, a means for shared ends. However, Dewey’s criticism of the individualistic social philosophy does not lead him to adopt the collectivist social philosophy and its practical achievements. From Dewey’s perspective, both conceptions of society, which have been in opposition since the late 19th century, have the same limits. Not only are they dualistic but they are also monistic by isolating the economic factor and making it the final cause of social phenomena. These limits prevent these social philosophies from considering the organic relationship between individuals and society and “the moral phase of the problem” (Dewey, 1939b, 184). Analytically, Dewey’s organic social is a “new individualism” that articulates the two factors that the other philosophies separated: the subjective human factor and the objective environmental factor. And in practice, Dewey’s organic social philosophy is an alternative to the two solutions that these philosophies defend, confronting each other in the 1930s (Dewey and Tufts, 1932; Dewey, 1939b, c).31 Dewey claims that the “deepest problem of our times” is to construct “a new individuality consonant with the objective conditions” (Dewey, 1930, 56). He argues against the collectivist solution of a control “from above and outside” (Dewey, 1939b, 320) by a coercive government that is supposed to represent society as a whole, and against the individualistic solution of market regulation that only results in formal liberty and has no other function than preserving private interests. Furthermore, Dewey argues that the only humanistic method is to achieve “the needed economic-social changes (with which legal and political changes are bound up) … in ways which preserve and develop what was fundamental in earlier liberalism” (Dewey, 1939c, 316), the democratic ideals of freedom, equality and fraternity. To accomplish this, democracy must be liberated from its roots in old individualism and integrate the consequences of the new material conditions of social life because “the issue of democracy has taken a new form” (Dewey, 1939b, 114).

  • 32 Dewey assigns a major role to technology and science “as an evolving factor of unbounded capacity t (...)

45In all his work, Dewey considers that democracy is first and foremost an ethical conception because it is a mode of human association or a way of life that aims to realize the personalities of human beings and extend their capacities through participation in a common life that ensures real equality (Dewey, 1888, 1939d). Democracy is “the effective embodiment of the moral ideal of a good which consists in the development of the social capacities of every individual member of society” to ensure that individual freedoms will be “a more extensive and equitable matter” (Dewey and Tufts, 1908, 424-430, emphasis added). Dewey claims that democracy represents “a true public or social good” that encourages “individual experimentation in new ideas and new projects, … promotes in all its member habits of criticizing its attained goods and habits of projecting schemes of new goods … endeavoring only to see that they are put into execution under conditions which make for securing responsibility for their consequences” (ibid., 433). The unprecedented development of material goods, and in particular technology, makes it possible to consider the development of “sharable goods”, i.e. knowledge, art and association. These sharable goods result in increased freedom and power rather than the possession of goods, and their value increases when they are shared (ibid., 497-499).32 Dewey seeks to transform the present situation, where the prism of private financial gain is the “controlling force” of all the social dimensions of social life. He wants on the contrary to give economic life a social function, and in particular the function of becoming the means of an ethical realization, which implies “that all may enter as fully as possible into this more social world of sharable goods” (ibid., 499).

  • 33 Ironically, Dewey considers that capitalism is actually a “capitalistic” socialism because of the p (...)

46Dewey consistently reiterated that the democratic ideal could not be entirely realized without a “democracy of wealth” (Dewey, 1888). This means that democracy must not only be political but also economic. From Dewey’s perspective, the issue regarding “industrial and economic autocracy” (Dewey, 1939c, 314) rests on the “social control of economic forces” (Dewey, 1927, 1930, 1935, 1939b, c) such that “private hands … will be animated by regard for social ends” (Dewey, 1927, 109). This explains why “the issue to be first settled concerns the conditions under which the institution of private property legally and politically functions” (ibid., 303). The primary objective is that economic life should be “in itself ethical” (Dewey, 1888, 248). This implies that economic life should allow the realization of individual personality through the participation of individuals in defining the ends and means to achieve them. According to Dewey, the realization of this democratic ethics represents “public” or “liberal” socialism, as opposed to both “capitalistic” socialism,33 which establishes “a blind, chaotic and unplanned [economic] determinism” and “collectivist” socialism, which seeks to develop a “planned society” that imposes set ends from the outside (Dewey, 1930, 98).

  • 34 This explains why transforming the institution of property can only be achieved and specified throu (...)
  • 35 These commitments include Dewey’s participation in the League for Industrial Democracy, the People’ (...)

47The ethics of democracy implies a method for realizing its ideals: the conscious adjustment of the means to secure the ends through an experimental process of mutual adaptation that considers the consequences of both ends and means. Dewey claims that the method of human intelligence or the method of inquiry brings science to the forefront. This explains why he perceives that the foundation of an alternative to the “ready-made answers” provided by individualism and collectivism is the alliance between democracy and science. Furthermore, Dewey considers individualism and collectivism as absolutist philosophies. From this perspective, a policy of social control of the economy is a means towards the democratic ideal. This policy cannot be regarded as “a program in the sense of having every item definitely scheduled in advance, but … represents an outlook upon the future of the things which most immediately require doing, trusting to the experience which is got in doing them to reveal the next things needed and the next steps to be taken” (Dewey, 1939c, 314).34 Dewey claims that social control cannot be conceived and implemented without the mobilization of social inquiry through devices of cooperative participation that are the foundation of a “continuously planning society” (ibid., 322). Deen explains (2012, 662) that Dewey’s philosophy “calls for organic intelligence embodied in scientific and democratic communities” in order to establish a creative democracy to which the economy will be subjected. Therefore, it is clear that one of Dewey’s major intellectual struggles was the reconstruction of social and moral theories to rebuild moral culture so that “making a living economically speaking, will be at one with making a life that is worth living” (Dewey, 1920, 201). This philosophical reconstruction underlies Dewey’s various practical commitments,35 through which he defends the necessity for a new political party (Dewey, 1931a) and a more radical economic program than the New Deal in order to develop the “economic basis of a new society” (Dewey, 1939c) associated with a “creative democracy” (Dewey, 1939d).

Conclusion

48Putting Dewey’s work into perspective has allowed us to highlight continuities and complementarities between his early conception of the economy and his later criticism of the economy. Regarding continuity, in all his works, Dewey mobilizes the same organic model of relations between individuals and society, and the same conception of social inquiry that links economic, political and ethical evolution. With regard to complementarities, Lectures concentrates on “how problems have to be met”; however, Dewey’s Syllabus and later works offer a deeper study of “what are the problems and what could be done”. By going beyond the sources usually quoted and establishing links within the entire set of Dewey’s works, we were able to show that his pragmatic philosophical system provided a perspective of economic life that is probably “unique”, as emphasized by the publisher of Lectures (Koch, 1998, 113). His philosophy questioned the economic problems of Western societies from the standpoint of the life-process.

49Dewey never claimed he was acting as an economist so that his perspective regarding economics may be regarded as external. Furthermore, by the end of his life, Dewey wished to continue developing the implications of his philosophy regarding the analysis of “economic activity in its relation to the problems which are dominant in life” (Dewey, 1949, 359). However, the study of his teachings in Political Ethics demonstrates the importance of the economic process in his social ontology; it is nothing less than the vital element of the social process and the key point of the organic link between individuals and society. Furthermore, the primary methodological implication of his organic evolutionism is a break from the dualistic and monistic approaches in order to defend the unity of the process of experience and its continuity. In all his works, Dewey continually emphasized that the theoretical separation “between the sphere of economic activity and the sphere of moral-political interests and values” leads to effects that are “disastrous to human welfare” (Dewey, 1949, 358). Analyzing Dewey’s Lectures and Syllabus has provided us with a key to the consistent interpretation of his subsequent works in which he systematically criticizes modern economic life. In particular, Dewey’s social philosophy establishes a criterion for assessing social processes, i.e. the capacity to accomplish an organic connection between individuals and society, which designates the individualistic regime of the economy as a force of maladjustment.

50According to Dewey, the economy and economics became autonomous due to a perversion of individualism that transformed into a “creed of economic laissez-faire liberalism … hardened and fixed in regressive social attitudes and institutional forms” (Dewey, 1949, 357). This individualism is likely to jeopardize the vital continuity of society, which includes the ability to achieve a full democracy. This interpretation allows us to understand Dewey’s defense of social control of the economy in order to foster a broader democracy. Dewey claimed, “that socialized economy is the means of free individual development as the end” (Dewey, 1935, 63) and the means to achieve a “shared abundant and secured life” (Dewey, 1931b, 62) which, alone, must constitute the finality.

51This article has been devoted to an internal understanding of Dewey’s thinking, justified by the fact that the importance of the economy in his social philosophy deserves to be treated as such; it is clear that the resulting perspectives for economics could be expanded (Bazzoli and Dutraive, 2013). Although this academic field has evolved significantly since Dewey’s time, it is still partly marked by what this philosopher considers to be major obstacles to the reconstruction of human experience. In addition, with the new phase of increased complexity and maladjustments of the Great Society, it seems to us that Dewey’s words about “the immensity of the task involved in … making our own politics, industry, education, our culture generally, a servant and an evolving manifestation of democratic ideas” in the 1930s (Dewey, 1939b, 185-187) have become even more important. From this perspective, his evolutionary and ethical analysis of economic life remains fully relevant, now more than ever.

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Notes

1 In the text, dates in between parentheses refer to original publication dates. In the references, they appear in between brackets.

2 In addition, this interest was stimulated by institutional economists (Veblen and Mitchell), who worked with Dewey in the Universities where he taught (particularly at Columbia, cf. Rutherford, 2004) and at the New School for Social Research, or by economists he corresponded with (such as Clarence Ayres). Furthermore, his family environment was conducive to having good knowledge of economics (Thompson, 2005). His elder brother, David Rich Dewey (1858-1942), was an economist and statistician at MIT specializing in issues regarding employment and labor, was a member of a State Commission on Industrial Relations (1904) and was editor of the American Economic Review in 1911. One of Dewey’s son, Frederick Archibald Dewey, obtained his doctorate in economics at the University of Columbia in 1913.

3 In the field of economics, Dewey's philosophy has been taken into account mainly by historians of economics who pointed out the links between Pragmatist philosophy and the American institutional school of thought. Recent examples include the idea that the institutional conception of the economy is congruent with Dewey’s conception of democracy (Bazzoli and Dutraive, 2014; Hermann, 2011).

4 The lectures Dewey taught from the late part of the 19th century to the early part of the 20th century should be included because they contain substantial developments regarding his conception of economic life. In this text, we refer to this set of works as Lectures. These Lectures were edited in parallel with the Collected Works that compile the entire set of works and articles published by Dewey. The other specific source we use in this text is Syllabus: this is a little-known piece of writing that may be perceived as a project meant for a textbook devoted to the study of social philosophy as a follow-up to Lectures. It received little attention from philosophers, probably because it was never completed and remains in the form of a detailed outline. However, this piece is used by Thompson (2005) and Deen (2012) because they are interested in Dewey’s thoughts on economics. In addition, Syllabus is now considered an important work by philosophers specializing on Dewey such as R. Frega (2015).

5 After Dewey’s first position at the University of Michigan, he was appointed head of the philosophy and education departments at the University of Chicago in 1894 before joining Columbia.

6 Koch edited the 1898-1899 lectures (Koch, 1976), then the 1894-1896 lectures (Koch, 1998). In addition, he co-edited the Archival Supplement of Research in the History of Economic Thought and Methodology (1989) with W.J. Samuels, which includes Dewey’s Moral and Political Philosophy lectures from 1915-1916 at Columbia, which followed the lectures he gave in Chicago. Like the Collected Works, Lectures was published electronically (The Class Lectures of John Dewey, Koch, 2010). Currently, the first volume compiles all the lectures given at the University of Chicago, including Lectures on Political Ethics of 1901, which have not been printed to date. Among these lectures, the ones given in 1898 are particularly exhaustive and analytical whereas the 1901 lectures offer a more synthetic vision of Dewey’s conception.

7 As we shall see, continuity is inherent because the life process is an organic-dynamic process that concerns animal, plant and human life. The specificity of human life lies in the role of ideals and values, Dewey regarding moral facts as the quintessence of human facts.

8 According to Arena and Lawson (2015), ontological considerations are an unavoidable part of both natural and social sciences. In the latter case “the social realm has its specific ontological concerns. Matters are by no means settled as to the nature of money, firms, technology, industries, markets, institutions, value, gender, development, social power, social relations, norms, rights, obligations, or even on the general nature of society … What even is the nature of social being and social causation?” The authors also make the distinction between philosophical ontology and scientific ontology. The first deals with the nature of beings per se and questions how phenomena exist (how phenomena exist with being qua being). The second is concerned with the nature of specific existents (what there is) (987). If we retain this definition and this typology, in our text, Dewey’s reflection can clearly be seen as belonging to philosophical ontology, bearing as it does on “the general nature of society or economy and the nature of social being and social causation” rather than on the nature of markets, firms, or money. This by no means excludes that Dewey’s work can be approached from the perspective of scientific ontology. This is precisely what Stephen Pratten does when he examines his conceptions of “habit, instinct, impulse, character, deliberation, choice, custom and growth” (e.g. Pratten, 2015, 1031-1052).

9 In the article that Dewey devoted to Darwin’s influence on philosophy, he highlights the epistemological implications, and in particular, that by extending the “genetic [non-teleological] and experimental logic” of the inorganic world of physics to the organic world of life, Darwin “freed the new logic for application to mind and morals” (Dewey, 1909, 7). Dewey’s works on social and moral philosophy develop the ontological and methodological consequences of this cleavage for social inquiry.

10 The organic conception of society was developed after reading other authors whom Dewey often quotes, such as T.H. Green or L.T. Hobhouse. However, on this theme and in Lectures, he mostly uses Spencer’s conception as a reference.

11 According to Dewey, the correlative dependence of the individual on society and of society on the individual lies at the core of the organic relationship between the individual and society and is responsible for its dynamic characteristics.

12 A. Marshall also developed an organic conception of society in which the economy plays a fundamental role. Dewey does not seem to be aware of this contribution, although he refers to Marshall’s Principles of Political Economics (e.g. Dewey and Tufts, 1908, 401, note 8) in regard to the relationship between moral issues and the economy.

13 According to Spencer, over the course of history, evolution moved from a “military” stage of organization where the individual blends into the community, to an “industrial” stage based on market and competition where the individual is liberated.

14 Dewey stresses that each “concrete group” performs several functions although one of these functions is dominant. For example, the family is simultaneously reproductive, economic, and educational (e.g. 1924, 237).

15 “There is a direct connection between these social groupings and the way in which the individual is bound to society. His connection with society is through the institutions he belongs to … There is no individual who is in immediate relation with society as such” (e.g. Dewey, 1901, 1922).

16 If Dewey considers that the economic function (maintenance of the life-process) offers a central contribution to the conditions and increasing complexity of associative life, then social interdependency is fostered by other functions of the social process, including the function of regulation and control performed by political structures; the function of “inquiry and publicity” performed by “agencies” that provide information, ideas and knowledge; and the function of service fulfilled by what Dewey refers to as “the professions”, which help maintain social relationships by managing social problems (e.g. medical or legal services) (e.g. Dewey, 1901, 1956 ff.).

17 Dewey articulates economics, politics and ethics in a single movement. However, the perspective from which we present his conception of economics leads us to leave aside the relationship between politics and ethics (which Dewey perceives as pertaining to the question of law) in order to concentrate on the two other terms of the relationship. For this reason, we do not develop the criticisms of existing social theories that this pattern of analysis implies.

18 Like certain institutional economists, Dewey defines an institution as a “social habit” and considers that the customs of the various social groups are the foundation of social rules.

19 Dewey and Tufts (1932) abundantly use studies on capitalism conducted by Veblen, Commons, Clark and Mitchell. As noted by Deen (2012), Veblen and Hobson are the two authors who are most frequently quoted by Dewey when analyzing economic problems.

20 We believe that Syllabus may have been an important piece of Dewey’s thought if it had been brought to completion; it pursues Reconstruction in philosophy (1920) in the social field and brings together his ideas on social philosophy.

21 In addition, Dewey uses the term “creative consumption”. In his unfinished Syllabus, Dewey does not specifically develop the meaning of these terms, which he no longer uses in subsequent works and uses the term “consumption-in-use” instead.

22 Dewey’s refusal of the “end-in-itself” does not mean he excludes any intrinsic end. This end is found in the organic link between individuals and society. Throughout his works, Dewey develops the normative postulate (see C. L. Stevenson’s introduction to volume 5 of the Middle Works) according to which self-realization includes an interest in social welfare and the common good because it requires the realization of a community that fosters the development of individual capacity and the equalization of opportunities. However, this end is always constructed for society as an organism, it is never reached and the common good is “a continual discovery of new ends” (e.g. Dewey, 1901, 64).

23 For Dewey, the paradox of this civilization, dominated by financial criteria in the name of individualism, is that individuals are integrated through conformism rather than free expression of their individuality. Considering that “the status of the artist in any form of social life affords a fair measure of the state of its culture”, he argues that the “inorganic position of the artist in American life today is convincing evidence of what happens to the isolated individual who lives in a society growing corporate” (e.g. Dewey, 1930, 60-61).

24 Frega (2015) has recently edited Dewey’s Lectures in China (1919), which are an extension of Lectures in Political Ethics and continue in Syllabus. One finds in Lectures in China an expression of the organic criterion of valuation also contained in Syllabus.

25 In this study, we do not analyze the various aspects Dewey identifies within the individualistic social philosophy (see the lectures given in 1915-1916 at Columbia and his essays from 1927 and 1930). The primary object of his criticisms is individualism “in the usual sense”, i.e. for Dewey, the three doctrines that have in a way “precipitated” in classical economics and marginalism: the laissez-faire economic doctrine, the ethical doctrine of individual interest and the metaphysical doctrine of introspection. According to Dewey, this old style individualism is a significant commonality of the economic, ethical and political theories of his time, which he opposes in his social philosophy. Dewey highlighted the misguided methods used by a “dismal science”, i.e. academic economics, due to the extreme isolation of economics from politics and ethics. Dewey claimed that this isolation is mostly responsible for the current problems in modern world.

26 “That with a background of millennia of non-democratic societies behind them, the earlier advocates of democracy tremendously simplified the issue is natural. For a time, the simplification was an undoubted asset. Too long continued it became a liability” (e.g. Dewey, 1939b, 185).

27 According to Dewey, the “forms of associated action characteristic of the present economic order … because they are the most potent and best organized of social forces … control present politics, much as dynastic interests controlled those of two centuries ago” (e.g. Dewey, 1927, 302).

28 Therefore, emancipation from old customs and institutions as achieved by democratic forces has never led to the establishment of a society of individuals but to “conjoint modes of life … as much extensive and enduring … as were those which they displaced; more so in their sweep and force” (e.g. Dewey, 1927, 300).

29 For Dewey, this perversion materializes in utilitarianism, which reduces moral deliberation to the market calculation of gains and losses (e.g. Dewey, 1922).

30 Dewey (1931b) notes that the material achievements of our civilization are not so much due to individual efforts motivated by profit but to the accumulated, collective investments that have been made in the scientific and technical fields. In alignment with Veblen, he argues that western civilization is marked by a contradiction, a “cultural lag” between material culture and moral culture. Material culture maintains conceptions, values and institutions (among which ownership ranks first) that were shaped long before the major transformations of material culture.

31 Although Dewey constantly conducts a parallel study of the individualistic and collectivist movements, since he positions his social philosophy as an alternative to both movements (see Dewey, 1915-1916 and 1939b), he clearly focuses on criticizing individualism because he believes it represents a major obstacle to the reconstruction of democratic society.

32 Dewey assigns a major role to technology and science “as an evolving factor of unbounded capacity to enable man to augment his economic power and to utilize this power to serve ideal ends and to fulfill human purposes” (Levin, 1956, 123), particularly because they are based on the articulation of individual and collective intelligence, personal effort and social cooperation.

33 Ironically, Dewey considers that capitalism is actually a “capitalistic” socialism because of the power that economic monopolies have acquired in the name of individual initiative and freedom (Dewey, 1930, 98).

34 This explains why transforming the institution of property can only be achieved and specified through experimental action.

35 These commitments include Dewey’s participation in the League for Industrial Democracy, the People’s Lobby and the LIPA (League for Independent Political Action). For additional information, see Bordeau (1971) and Ratner (1985) who highlight how much Dewey’s commitments in public affairs are organically linked to his philosophy, contrary to Posner’s (2004) arguments.

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Laure Bazzoli et Véronique Dutraive, « Economic Issues in John Dewey’s Social Philosophy: An Evolutionary and Ethical Account », Œconomia, 9-4 | 2019, 689-721.

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Laure Bazzoli et Véronique Dutraive, « Economic Issues in John Dewey’s Social Philosophy: An Evolutionary and Ethical Account », Œconomia [En ligne], 9-4 | 2019, mis en ligne le 01 décembre 2019, consulté le 25 janvier 2020. URL : http://journals.openedition.org/oeconomia/7344 ; DOI : 10.4000/oeconomia.7344

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Auteurs

Laure Bazzoli

Université Lumière-Lyon 2, UMR TRIANGLE, Laure.bazzoli@univ-lyon2.fr

Véronique Dutraive

Université Lumière-Lyon 2, UMR TRIANGLE, veronique.dutraive@univ-lyon2.fr

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